Three-time Grammy Award-winning chairman and CEO of Epic Records L.A. Reid has discovered and worked with some of the biggest names in music, shaping the industry for more than 25 years. The star-making titan has seen epic success and readily admits he’s made some costly mistakes. Ultimately, Reid has learned to lead in a high-pressure, ego-driven industry. TV host, culture critic and journalist Touré sat down with Reid for an incredible interview touching on life, music and what it takes to be a great leader at the Chicago Ideas Curiosity Series Conversation for an incredible interview touching on life, music and what it takes to be a great leader. Here are the eight great takeaways from A Conversation with L.A. Reid.
1. Surround Yourself with People Who are Better Than You.
“I try to find people that are arguably smarter than I am. And then I have to be confident that I won’t lose my job because of it. And by the way, I actually have. I’ve hired people that are so good that they’ve taken my job, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted people so good around me that when I’m off they’re on, because none of us can be on 100 percent of the time.”
2. Don’t Get Stuck in Mad.
“Try to not get mad. About anything…I used to get mad early in my career and learned that when you get angry, and you show anger, you make people so uncomfortable and become so unpredictable that you can’t get strong rational people to stick around. Have you ever been caught in a mad where you’re like Damn, I’m still mad–I’m actually over it but I’m still stuck in mad? Well being stuck in mad is like being stuck in stupid.”
3. Support Unconditionally.
“It’s important for my executives to feel that I am with them unconditionally, not only when they are doing great but when they struggle they can feel I’m with them and I have their back. See everyone needs to feel supported. I think people just need to feel like somebody has their back so they can make a mistake if they need to. I learned from being in the recording studio–I work with great singers and in order to do a great recording they have to mess up.”
4. Do Make Mistakes. Don’t Get Complacent.
“Complacency will get you in trouble–that’s not a mistake. That’s not making an error. That’s not doing your job anymore or not growing or not moving forward.”
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Hire Jay-Z.
“We go out and I pitch him the idea of being president of Def Jam. There was this 48-hour period when I wasn’t sure he would take it [and thought] what if he does sign and then he comes into the building and Oh my god he’s Jay-Z. I just hired Elvis. So I called Doug Morris and I said, ‘No one’s gonna want to come to my office.’ [Morris responded]:‘You think that when you hire Jay-Z it’s going to make you shrink? You got it all wrong, when you hire Jay-Z it’s going to make you grow.’ And I realized in that moment that’s what it means to surround yourself with people that are arguably greater than you are. And I did and my company had a run, it was such a run you wouldn’t believe it I mean we got on fire instantly. And he was right.”
6. Let Genius Breathe.
“When you’re that genius, if you’ll just take a step back from the microphone, during your down time, the genius will shine through. But if you don’t take the step back, you might over shine the genius.”
7. Have a Vision.
“Vision. The leader must know here he intends to take the company. Where are we going. If the leaders doesn’t know where you’re going it’s the blind following the blind. Good luck. it works out sometimes but I wouldn’t bet on it , it’s not a strategy.”
8. Parents Will Predict the Next Big Thing.
“I don’t know what [the future of music] is but I’ll know when it arrives because the parents will hate it. Just look to the parents, if they’re shaking their heads no, it’s a yes.”
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
This event took place on February 17, 2016 as the kickoff to the Chicago Ideas Curiosity Series. View and purchase tickets to upcoming events, all events take place in Chicago, most tickets are only $15.